Creativity vs. Clarity and Why E-mail Needs The Latter


Working in the creative industries, many of us have a tendency to cling steadfastly to the notions of artistic freedom and poetic license. Originality is our thing. Rebellion, too. We want—no, need!—to pair the floral-print, full skirt with the striped boatneck top, to fill our iPods exclusively with the music of bygone eras and bands no one has ever heard of, to pepper everything we do with something that screams of autonomy. For this, I salute us—the world would be a far less interesting place without our antics and ideas. There is, however, a time and a place for everything, even creativity, and our professional correspondence is one place where it’s best to rein in our imaginations and abide by a few ever useful, often underestimated rules of work email etiquette.

  • Always begin with a greeting. Let’s be honest here—it takes no more than a second to type “hi” or “hello” before someone’s name but all too frequently, we choose not to. When you omit a greeting, you run the risk of coming off as rushed, impatient or impolite.
  • Use an accurate subject line. Our inboxes are inundated with hundreds of emails a day—stuff is bound to get lost in the madness. Having a subject line, like “Advertising Proposal Attached” that clearly and simply reflects what is inside the email diminishes the chances that your very important email will be ignored or put on the backburner.
  • Be concise. Again, everyone is super busy. Your recipients will appreciate it if you keep your email short, sweet and to the point. Brevity is always better.
  • Use proper spelling, grammar and punctuation. There is no nice way of saying this one: spelling and grammar mistakes make both you and the company you work for look bad. When in doubt, consult your office’s resident English nerd (you know every office has one) and then double-check with an online dictionary. Nothing ruins a great marketing plan more than a typo in the subject line of the email. Believe me—you’ll be thanking your lucky stars you took that extra minute when you catch a mistake in the draft of your email.
  • Respond in a timely fashion. If your client wasn’t interested in a quick response, they’d probably just send you a letter the old fashioned way or wait till the next time they bumped into you. In other words, every email you receive should be responded to within 24 hours, no excuses. If you’re unable to respond within that time frame, just send a short response to let your client know you have received their email and will get back to them at your earliest convenience— you’ll avoid a lot of annoyed follow-up phone calls and emails this way.
  • When to use “CC” and “BCC.” Use the CC function sparingly and only when you’re sure the recipient knows why they are receiving a copy of the email. Besides, exposing someone’s email address to a large number of people can be construed as an invasion of privacy so BCC-ing is best.
  • Be careful who you’re putting in the “To” field. For Pete’s sake, make sure you’re sending the email to the right Bob. Once you send a producer an email that was intended for a friend about the wild weekend you had, you’ll never make this mistake again.
  • Re-read the email before you hit “send.” Just one more time. Or two. Read it out loud, print out a copy or pretend you’re the recipient reading it—find a system that works for you and stick to it.